Anyone who has read my reviews knows that I don’t bother to review stories or movies that I don’t like. House of Cards, which is an updated and Americanized version of the 1990 British mini-series of the same title is no exception to that rule. I confess that I fully expected this to be just another of the many failed attempts by American movie producers to re-make a fine British film. The rather sorry U.S. version of State of Play immediately comes to mind. But unlike that dud, this is a live round.
Played brilliantly by Kevin Spacey, Francis Underwood is the central character in this series and the Democratic Majority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. In the original, the incomparable Ian Richardson played Francis Urquhart, the main character and Chief Whip of the British House of Commons. The basic premise of the new series is the same as that of the old one. In each case, the main character feels his talents and efforts are undervalued by the leader of their party and they each resolve to right this wrong. Both are devious, devilishly wicked and relentless in pursuit of their aims. As they plot and scheme, both characters occasionally talk directly through the camera to the audience in Shakespearian fashion. As did Urquhart, Underwood ruthlessly uses and exploits people in his quest to achieve power for himself. It is a tribute to the writers and the actors in each series that we continue to want our main character to succeed no matter what evil deeds he does. In an amusing nod to the original series, Underwood borrows one of Urquhart’s favorite lines. When confronted with a question he doesn’t wish to answer, he states: “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.”
Diane Fletcher played Elizabeth Urquhart in the original series and was excellent as the Lady to Urquhart’s Macbeth. Robin Wright is equally excellent as Claire Underwood in the new series. Her role is more complex, however, as she has her own ambitious career and is often at odds with her husband when their interests conflict. Robin Wright brings the role off with her usual style. Kate Mara plays Zoe Barnes, the young journalist whom Underwood uses to leak stories damaging to his enemies, and who in turn uses him as a valuable source of inside information. As the ambitious young reporter, Mara is every bit as convincing as Susannah Harker was in the original series. Several other supporting cast members include: Corey Stoll as Congressman Peter Russo whom Underwood blackmails into doing his bidding; Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper, Underwood’s chief of staff and chief fixer; and Kristen Connolly as Christina Gallagher, Russo’s loyal assistant. All of these actors turn in excellent and believable performances.
There is one caveat to my praise for the series. There are occasional lapses into what I can only term coarseness in both the language and the action. For example, in the original series, Francis Urquhart and the young journalist become lovers, but their physical liaisons are understated and held largely off screen. In this series, Francis Underwood and Zoe Barnes also become lovers, but their liaisons are very explicit, enough so that I found them off putting. Now, I can assure you that I am not a prude and am aware that nearly twenty-five years have passed since the original version was made. And no one who has been awake during this period could reasonably deny that social discourse has become increasingly crude. So in their defense, perhaps the producers are simply recognizing this trend by making the dialog and action conform to contemporary standards, or the lack thereof. Nonetheless this coarseness was not present in the very stylish British version and I do not feel it is necessary here.
All that being said, this is a very classy and well put together series. The plot and characters are strong, the cast is top shelf and the production values are excellent. I highly recommend the series and am looking forward to the next season.